Kids raised in religious homes are less generous and kind than those raised in nonreligious homes, according to a recent study.
By religious, the report means that the parents identified with a religion (mainly Christianity or Islam), and they measured frequency of religious attendance and rated the overall spiritual atmosphere of the home.
I traced all the statistics and sweeping generalizations back to the source, hoping to find that what had been shared by the mass media and nonreligious bloggers was wrong.
What I found was, in fact, that the study did seem to show that children raised in religious homes, and most specifically in Christian fundamentalist homes, tended to be more judgmental, less altruistic and more punitive than kids raised without religion.
This seems counterintuitive. Shouldn’t it be the other way around, if everything we proclaim to be true about God and his love is, in fact, true? And if it is true, why is this happening?
I suggest we start by looking at their role models – the adults in the church. Are we modeling generosity, love and kindness for them?
In terms of generosity, Barna Group’s latest study on American Donor Trends shows that evangelical Christians do indeed donate more than other groups.
However, only 5 percent of U.S. Christians tithe 10 percent of their income, and when they give or donate money it usually goes to churches or religious charities.
They give the least to nonprofits, community organizations or local nonreligious charities. So, in short, we give, but we give to ourselves.
We should also consider public perceptions of Christians’ love of neighbor.
I realize that “love” is hardly quantifiable, but there are some things we can examine.
The “tipping” debacle of 2013, for example, where a pastor in an Applebee’s refused to tip a waitress because he only gave God 10 percent and he didn’t think he should give her more.
When the picture of his receipt when viral, the waitress was fired but, interestingly, waiters and waitresses all over the country began writing to share this one story: Christians are the worst tippers, and Sundays are the days serving staff work the hardest but earn the least.
That’s “our” reputation, which I know many have been working hard to improve since then, but that’s what “we” are known for.
What about Christians and kindness?
A study done by Berkley social scientists noted that “the link between compassion and generosity was found to be stronger for those who identified as being nonreligious or less religious.”
In other words, nonreligious people tended to be moved more by compassion to help others than religious people were. So what were religious people motivated by?
“Doctrine, a communal identity or reputational concerns,” the study concluded. It was more of an “I have to” than an “I want to” attitude.
I’m not seeking to be negative and pessimistic. However, we need to consider that if secular studies are finding these trends, it would behoove us as the church to pay attention.
Maybe we need to ask ourselves some questions like, “Why do we give?” “Do we show kindness?” and “How am I modeling generosity for my children?”
We must remember that our children are learning from us. They are watching, listening and learning. They are growing up and learning how to be adults by watching us.
That’s a pretty huge responsibility, and if the study first cited in the article is correct, we are leaving a gap when it comes to simple kindness.
If anything, it should spur us to consider how we can intentionally and purposefully be generous, not because we have to, but because God has so generously lavished his love on us.
And we must do so in a way that let’s our children see that being kind and generous is who we are, not what we do, and that invites them to be a part of the giving.
As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, we must put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (see Colossians 3:12).
Perhaps we won’t make a dent in the statistics, but we can certainly make a difference in our homes, churches and communities.
Christina Embree is director of children and family ministries at Nicholasville United Methodist Church near Lexington, Kentucky. A longer version of this article first appeared on her website, Refocus Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @EmbreeChristina.
A church planter with Plowshares Brethren in Christ in Lexington, Kentucky, she is a graduate of Wesley Seminary with a Master of Arts degree in ministry focusing on family, youth and children’s ministry.